A Magical Adventure?

Back in the early summer, shortly after we lost Supergran, we were in the mood to seize life and make sure we lived it. We also knew that Gary was going to need something to look forward to, to help her find a way through her grief. So, without thinking it through too much, we booked a holiday to Lapland for the end of the year.

Grizzly has always wanted to go and was very excited. I, on the other hand, have been gifted with a brain that immediately leaps to the darkest places. Neither Bear has flown before (or been abroad) so consequently I have not left the country for 9 years. What if I had developed a fear of flying? What if the boys were terrible flyers? What if the plane crashed? What if there were terrorists in the airport? What if one of us got frostbite?

Sadly I’m not joking: this is just a small selection of my actual thoughts.

Thankfully by the time December came I had pretty much got over my irrational preoccupations and was finally getting excited. So excited in fact that we had to bring forward the date for telling the boys before I imploded. We had purposefully left it to the last minute so as not to overexcite them months in advance. I have no idea how we got away with it as we did loads of prep right under their noses!

In the end, we told them with 10 days to go. The news came in the form of a personalised letter/ invitation sent by Santa himself (!). Little Bear was immediately excited whereas Big Bear was immediately nervous about flying (I suspect he has inherited the going to dark places thing, bless him).

I had planned to use our light box as a visual countdown but it turned out that Little Bear didn’t need me to. For the first time he has been able to keep track of the countdown himself – each day knowing how many more sleeps were left, as well as managing to keep track of which door to open on his advent calendar. I was really impressed with how he managed it: his grasp of time and numbers has progressed a lot recently.

There didn’t appear to be any extra anxiety and whenever I tried to reassure or explain about flying, Little Bear just claimed he had flown before (which I know he hadn’t) and that he had been to Lapland before (hadn’t) and therefore knew all about it already. It was kind of difficult to argue with.

At the halfway point of the countdown I saw some PAS colleagues. As I was telling them what we were up to (the week before Christmas, with a potentially dysregulated child) they did look at me like I might be off my rocker. Was I?! Could this be an ill-thought through hellish disaster?

With 4 days to go, Little Bear woke up with a vomiting bug and proceeded to puke every half an hour for most of the day.

With 3 days to go, Little Bear was thankfully feeling a little better but we had a power cut so he couldn’t watch TV and I couldn’t have life-saving cups of tea. It felt like the week was turning into a black satire of the twelve days of Christmas. On the third day of Christmas my true love brought to me cabin fever hell, lots of vomit bowls and travel doubts a-plentyyyy…

Somehow, it all came together, as these things do, and we were getting up at 4:30am to go to the airport. I have to say I am extremely proud of how both Bears coped with the early start, airport mayhem and the travelling itself. We had a slightly dubious start as Little Bear marched confidently onto the plane and seated himself at an emergency exit. It was the stuff of nightmares! I could only imagine what he could get up to if we took our eyes off him for three seconds in that position.

Of course children cannot sit at emergency exits and instead Gary and I had to endure the talk about what to do if they shouted evacuate, evacuate, evacuate, which did at least clear up the issue of whether I had developed a fear of flying or not.

Entirely to his credit, it turns out that Little Bear is a brilliant flyer and not one bit of bother if allowed his IPad. Big Bear felt unwell to start with which was a shame but he got used to it too and had no difficulty on the way back.

Arriving over a snowy forest and landing on a runway hemmed by snow was pretty amazing. We had taken off at sunrise in the UK and landed three hours later at sunset in Finland. As Lapland is so far north (inside the Arctic circle in fact) they only have three hours of daylight at this point in the year. It was very confusing arriving at the hotel in the pitch black, a bit after 3pm, having just had breakfast on the plane. The dark was pretty difficult to get used to the whole time we were there really.

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The hotel was lovely – warm, Christmassy and traditionally Finnish. No frills but cosy and with everything we needed. Previously we have only ever gone on self-catering holidays and being tied to the hotel timings was a bit tricky. Although we don’t stick rigidly to a timetable at home, we do stick to meal and bedtimes wherever we are or whatever we are doing. It is with good reason as those things remain a predictable constant and help Little Bear to stay regulated. In the hotel, the evening meal wasn’t available until 6pm, which is the time Little Bear usually gets ready for bed. With a bit of tactical snacking and turning a blind eye to Little Bear eating chips for every meal, we managed this ok.

The next morning however, I did nearly lose my calm due to a booking cock-up which meant that an excursion we had pre-booked from the UK for that afternoon was no longer available to us and the only time we could now do it was from 6:30 to 10pm at night. The Rep didn’t seem to be able to get his head around why that would be such a big deal to us. I think people think you should ‘just go with it’ but that is actually much harder than it sounds when you have a child with additional needs and you work so hard to keep things manageable for them. After a bit of a wobble (me) we decided to go with it to the best of our ability and changed our afternoon plan to ‘nap’ and hoped for the best. I am nothing if not resilient.

In retrospect (as much as it irks me to admit it), I have to say that I am grateful for the booking cock-up. Without it we would not have had the opportunity to whizz around a completely dark, peaceful, snow-drenched forest in a sled pulled by huskies, lit only by our head-torches, the stars and the green glow of the Northern Lights! It is hard to describe how awesome, calm and breath-taking it was. At minus 23 degrees it was also a little chilly. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience for all of us that I wouldn’t have wanted us to miss.

It was very special for Little Bear as he LOVES animals. He had been particularly excited about seeing the huskies before we went but we had warned him that they may not be friendly and we probably wouldn’t be able to stroke them. Before we got into the sleds for our safari, we went into a Kota (Lappish polygonal wooden hut) to have some hot berry juice and gingerbread and to warm up. The door opened to allow a guide to enter and in trotted a husky. The look on Little Bear’s face when he realised he could pet her was priceless. It turns out the huskies are highly trained, fully domesticated and love human attention. Little Bear and Nia became firm friends and it really made the trip for him (so much so that I need to print some photos for his room as he is missing her).

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We were also able to pet the huskies who took us on our adventure. I discovered that a warm lick is a great way to warm cold hands afterwards!

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It was a truly fantastic experience and the highlight of the trip for all of us.

Little Bear coped admirably with his very late night. He did ask to go to bed a few times and finally crashed out on the way back to the hotel in the coach.

Unfortunately on day 3 we couldn’t let the boys sleep in because we had to be on the coach at 8am for the next excursion. It was the trip to see Santa and I was concerned that we might have been dragged out of bed for a huge dose of crowds and commercialism. Once more, Lapland proved me wrong and massively surpassed my expectations: a feat which is difficult to accomplish as I am notoriously hard to impress.

Lapland doesn’t seem to do commercialism, just take-us-as-you-find-us natural beauty. We met Santa in a log cabin nestled beside a frozen lake, skirted with frost-encrusted trees. It felt authentic and pure. Somehow it didn’t feel overrun with us tourists, probably because it was a large-ish space and there were plenty of other things to do. The boys played snow football on the frozen lake, we sledged down a hill again and again and when our fingers and toes got nippy we went inside to ice gingerbread. No gift shops, no gimmicks, no glitz.

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The Fins also seem to have a fairly lax attitude towards health and safety which meant that Grizzly and I both got to drive a snowmobile (and the husky sleds) after a three second tutorial (the Bears and Gary were in the sleds, on the back of a snowmobile or in a sleigh pulled by a guide). I’m not exactly known for my daring but I bloody loved it and could have scooted round on the snowmobile for ages if they’d have let me.

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By the afternoon, Little Bear was wilting in front of our eyes. His ability to listen and co-operate was diminishing by the minute. The itinerary for the evening was a Festive Finale beginning at 7pm. Grizzly and I could tell that this was not a risk worth taking. The signs were there that we would not be able to ‘just go with it’ this time and in all likelihood it would be an unmitigated disaster. Not seeing the point of setting him up to fail, we decided that I would stay at the hotel with him and put him to bed and Grizzly and Gary would take Big Bear to the party.

The Rep tried to tell me how much we would be missing out on and though he was trying to be nice, I just wanted him to p*** off as he had no clue about Little Bear, his needs or what would go down if we did attend (it wouldn’t be pretty). Sometimes you have to trust your judgement and know when not to be swayed.

Big Bear had a fantastic time running wild with his new friends and evidently screaming, judging by his husky voice today.

Other than the tweaks/ blips I’ve mentioned and a bit of a tricky passage through Kittila airport with an over-hungry and over-tired and overwhelmed Little Bear (the airport is tiny but packed to the rafters with people), the overall trip was a big success. Even when we weren’t going on trips or doing activities, the Bears just loved being in the snow. They have never seen snow that deep or fluffy before and stepping into it right up to their thighs never grew tiring for them.

The trip was over in a flash and no one was quite ready to go home.

There were minor challenges (there were always going to be) but thankfully no major ones. I would say that our few days were no more difficult than they would have been were Little Bear enduring the final days of term in school. If anything, they were a bit easier, and we had a whole lot more fun and an unforgettable experience. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to taking the children out of school again (at this point in the term) and we now know that travelling abroad is a risk worth taking.

Lapland, we have loved you, you were truly spectacular and you may well have given us the travelling bug as well as some unforgettable memories.

Thank you from all the Bears xx

 

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A Magical Adventure?

A bad bedtime

Last night’s bedtime for Little Bear was like stepping back a year in time. It took me completely by surprise. In fact, it’s funny how quickly I have forgotten the full extent of the challenge we used to face every single day. Last night was certainly a challenge though and if the truth be told I was quite unsure how to handle it. Even now, having reflected about it on my drive back and to work this morning, I am still none the wiser about what a better way of handling it might have been.

The thing is that we are quite familiar with dysregulation. I wrote about it in my last post as it tends to pay us a visit on Saturdays. Little Bear’s usual dysregulation is reactive: it doesn’t come out unless we make a demand of him like asking him to go to the toilet or eat a meal. Left to his own devices in an imaginary demand-free zone I think his behaviour at these points would probably seem quite calm and nothing out of the ordinary. When a demand is made, he will resist and refuse and might lash out. However, if we left him alone he would not come looking for trouble.

Last night’s uber-dysregulation (I’m clearly making up terms to suit myself here), however, was on a whole other scale. Last night’s dysregulation was combative and purposefully provocative and very difficult to manage.

Things seemed like they were going awry when Grizzly picked Little Bear up from school. He was scowling and grumpy: not his usual default demeanour any more. The teacher didn’t need a word though and although we had a bit of resistance on his arrival home, Little Bear settled quickly. We spotted the signs so fed him and let him rest in front of the tele. Tea and in fact the whole evening went without the need for remark. It was only when I said it was bedtime and insisted after some refusal that Little Bear did need to turn his I Pad off that I knew I was in for it. It’s hard to describe but there is a visible change in him at these points. His body language, facial expression and whole comportment were different. He does not seem like the same child when this happens.

I persevered with bedtime, keeping everything the same as usual. I asked him to go for his “night night wee”. He went into his bedroom. I asked him again. He rolled around on the floor. I began to count as I always do. I got to 3 and he looked me directly in the eye and didn’t move. I said “ok, that’s one story gone”. He usually has 3 books and we regularly use their removal as a consequence if needs be. This upset him and he began to cry but did go to the toilet. I could see the way this was going and tried to reason. I explained that he had made a bad decision so lost one story but if he made some good decisions now, he could still have 2. He called me an idiot. I removed another story. He started chanting “mummy is stupid” so I removed the third. It’s hard because I knew he was dysregulated but it isn’t ok to call me names every time I do something he doesn’t like. Perhaps I should have tried to ignore it instead.

As he was now quite miserable and grumpy, I tried to cajole him. “If you get ready super quick and are really sensible, you can win 2 of your stories back”. I felt this was fair. I was giving him a way out and most children would have seen that 2 stories was good, it was what they wanted and I think they would have tried to buck themselves along to get them. In fairness, I think Little Bear would have on a usual day. In fact most of the time when he loses stories I don’t give them back and he usually accepts that. Not last night though. No. Last night he began getting his knickers in a twist because he thought I should let him win 3 stories back. Perhaps I should have just let him but clearly I can match him in a battle of who is most stubborn (oh dear) and I felt it was the wrong message.

I was able to distract him though and we jumbled our way through getting into pyjamas and doing teeth well enough that I did let him have his stories. He listened well and enjoyed them. We had a nice 10 minutes of quality time together. Little Bear seemed his usual self. That is, until the second I put the books back onto the shelf. At that exact instant, Dysregulated Little Bear was back. It was literally as though someone had flipped a switch.

Me: “okey doke, lie down in your bed then”. Little Bear does not. Me: “come on, Mummy let you win your stories back and we’ve had a lovely time. Let’s be sensible now”. Little Bear: “no”. Me (probably sounding exasperated) “Little Bear, you’ve got some choices now. You can either lay down and be sensible or not. But if you don’t, you know there will be a consequence. It’s your choice but I think you’re really tired and a big sleep would make you feel better”. Little Bear (continuing to hang his legs over the side of the bed): “no”. Me: “ok”. At this point I left the room and sat on the landing so I could still keep an ear out for him.

I was swiftly followed by something (probably a dummy) being pelted at the door then various other items. I could hear a range of crashing and bashing, wall kicking, bed-rocking etc. Little Bear then started shouting and hurling insults. I chose at this stage to ignore him because I knew all this behaviour was designed to attract my attention. However, being stubborn as I am, I have previously sat outside his door and ignored him for a very long time in the hope he would run out of steam but he didn’t. I wasn’t entirely sure that ignoring would work this time either. I pondered my options.

It is difficult in these situations because there are not many options and of all the options not many are favourable ones. I feel that at these times Little Bears WANTS me to lose the plot with him. He wants me to shout and ball. Sometimes I think he wants me to hit him. Sometimes I really feel like it. I think this has something to do with Mirror Neurons though it is odd because to my knowledge Little Bear has not been in a domestic violence situation and has not been physically abused. Nevertheless, he is sparring for a fight and it sometimes feels as though nothing will work until he has managed to escalate the situation and got whatever it is out of his system. Obviously I never do hit him (and don’t think hitting is ever an actual option) so need to have a better strategy.

When he had been shouting for a while, he started saying “why aren’t you speaking to me mummy?”. I said that he wasn’t behaving very well at the moment but I would speak to him if he spoke to me nicely. I asked if he was ready to speak to me nicely. He said he wasn’t and went back to shaking his bed about.

At the point when I felt his bed might actually fall down I decided I had to try something different so I went in to speak with him. I gave him another chance to make a different choice and lie properly in the bed. He did not take it and probably called me something inappropriate so I decided to get him out of the bed and try a ‘time in’. I sat him a couple of feet from me on the landing, making sure there was nothing within his reach that could become a missile. I could see him from the corner of my eye. His behaviour continued to be provocative – moving from the spot I had told him to sit on, trying to turn around, trying to move behind me. It felt like a battle for control.

I distinctly remember sitting in Prep Groups talking about managing behaviour. We were talking about distraction and why that is so much better than a consequence and one lady piped up saying “but then you’ve let them win” and we all inwardly groaned because we knew the whole lesson was about not making it a battlefield or about winning or losing. As a parent you have to be the bigger person. You have to let some things go purposefully unnoticed. You have to pick your battles. You are meant to be therapeutic.

However, how do you distract a child at bedtime? I don’t want to distract him, I want him to go to sleep. I also have to be very careful with Little Bear because the rules need to be the rules. He knows where he’s at then, without any uncertainty. Consistent rules make him feel safe. I can’t have a rule where you aren’t allowed to bounce on your bed except when you’re feeling rubbish and then you can. That doesn’t work. The rule is that you can’t bounce on your bed. If I made an exception one day, the next day, Little Bear would think he could do it again. Last night, he was checking all the rules and I felt I had to make sure they were still there.

I also felt that he was spiralling out of control and on some level he needed me to make sure things stayed under control so that he felt safe. He needed me to keep him under control. In that way it WAS a battle for control.

Needless to say that having all these thoughts and insights is all well and good but you still have a spiralling child who you have now been trying to get to sleep for 2 hours. I did eventually lose my temper and shouted at him and it was a shame because although when he first arrived you could practically explode and he wouldn’t bat an eyelid, he does now look pretty frightened if one of us shouts. It took holding him for a while and some more discussion and wondering to get him to calm down. Even then he still said he wasn’t ready to go to sleep sensibly.

I left the room again and after a minute or so, he said “mum, I happy now” and when I went back in it was as though the switch had been flicked back again. Whatever “It” had been was over. We had kisses and cuddles and he settled down.

I didn’t feel good about my handling of it. I wished I hadn’t shouted at him in an angry way. We have found before that unless he has a good cry and gets everything out of his system he won’t settle and somehow you have to make the escalation stop. I’m open to suggestions if anybody has any wise words.

The saving grace is that he could have been having that meltdown at the school disco which would have been MUCH worse.

I don’t know what was behind it but I’m hoping that the Easter Holidays are going to be just what we all need.

A bad bedtime

Saturdays

When Saturday rolls around I think most people are grateful and ready for a rest. No school run, no work, no expectations. Saturday is meant to be a good day. Saturday should be about a slower start, family time, fun and freedom. However, since Little Bear started school we’ve started noticing that Saturday has stopped delivering. Saturday is now actually quite tricky.

On Saturdays Little Bear is shattered from a week at school. He has worked hard, tried his best and by Saturday seems to be hitting a wall of tiredness. On Saturdays Little Bear is dysregulated.

Grizzly works very hard all week too. He works long hours in a high pressure job and, like many of his colleagues, struggles to adjust from the working week to the weekend. He is shattered and in need of a lie in and a bit less pressure. He needs easing in to the weekend. He needs a break.

Big Bear is normally pretty chipper on a Saturday morning because he plays football for his team. He usually marches into our bedroom not long after 7 with the announcement “number 15 is approaching the pitch!”. He is over excited.

Little Bear has a swimming lesson at 9am on a Saturday morning. I have to admit I don’t love it but at least it gets it out of the way and the rest of the day is free. Usually I take Little Bear swimming and Grizzly takes Big Bear to his football match, occasionally the other way around. Nobody gets a lie in.

After swimming we try to get Little Bear to have a rest and a snack. Sometimes if we have to go somewhere else and he doesn’t have time for that things tend to go AWRY.

How Big Bear is depends on the football match. If they have lost or he has not scored or somebody has fouled him or all of the above then he might be in a football GRUMP.

We usually re-convene after lunch and attempt to do something or other. This may or may not go well. Often it involves Little Bear ignoring all instructions/ doing the opposite of them and Grizzly increasingly struggling to remain calm. Little Bear seems to know that Grizzly is finding the day hard too and seems to be especially disobedient for him. This pattern generally continues until bedtime when Little Bear often loses the plot entirely.

Every now and again we don’t have the energy for this type of Saturday and we try to keep things EASY. This weekend Big Bear’s football match was cancelled and Grizzly was especially tired from travelling so we decided to skip the swimming too. When Little Bear woke us at 6:30 am we gave him his I Pad and he lay in bed with us playing on it for a while. It meant we were able to shut our eyes for a bit longer, even if we weren’t actually asleep. Although this is a nice bit of lazy parenting which definitely has benefits for us we do have to be careful with it as if we leave giving Little Bear his breakfast for too long, things will go AWRY.

Little Bear will refuse to go to the toilet/ come to the table/ eat the breakfast. When we insist that these things do have to be done, he will say something rude like “idiot” or “stupid mum” and growl. We will try to ignore him.

Grizzly and Little Bear find everything easier if they can go outside so even though they are at risk of winding each other up, they often go outside together to do some jobs. This Saturday they cleaned Grizzly’s car and moved some gravel about. Big Bear and I popped to buy him some new trousers as he insists upon growing and got some plants to finish off the front garden.

We then needed to have an early lunch as we were meeting some friends at the park afterwards. When Little Bear is tired he is not too good at eating his meals. He tends to sit at the table but fiddle with anything and everything but not his actual food. He will try and lie on the bench or sit on the back of it. It can be incredibly irritating, especially as he is hungry and will eat the food if we feed it to him. It must be some sort of control thing but I’ve never properly understood it and it can be frustrating, especially if we are in a rush. Grizzly finds it particularly difficult.

We eventually all managed to get into the car. Unfortunately we got stuck in roadworks on the way to the park. Little Bear gets quite anxious if we don’t get somewhere quickly and tends to talk non-stop. He will say things like “over take the cars Dad” and will get increasingly annoyed when you don’t do it. We will try to explain to him that it’s a queue because they are working on the bridge and the cars have to wait for the green light. We can’t over take because it would be dangerous. Little Bear seems to have a bit of a fascination with crashing though and will then start talking about how we should crash and will argue that black is white and that crashing would be good and that it wouldn’t matter if it hurt people. I don’t really think he means it but because he has set himself on that trajectory he doesn’t seem to be able to stop.

Ignoring Little Bear at these points is not really a useful strategy because it tends to make him more insistent or louder or he turns to insults. Distraction can work and sometimes a calm explanation can but at other times he gets “beyond himself”. I can’t quite remember how it started but on this journey he disagreed with/ disliked something Big Bear had said. It wouldn’t have been much – you could say that the sky is blue and that might annoy him at these moments. Whatever it was, the two of them started with a “I will” “you won’t” kind of argument. If Little Bear isn’t getting the outcome or response he’s hoping for, he will say something like “you will or I will kill you” or “fine then, I will chop off your head”.

It is quite disturbing how often he references decapitating somebody but we try not to get too excited about it. I don’t think he actually means it, I think it is a way of verbalising his inner discomfort at the time. However, it is unpleasant and he does need to learn a more appropriate way of expressing himself. Usually at these points we will say something like “if you carry on being rude, you can stay in the car with Mum/Dad when we get to the park. It’s your choice” and then try not to engage with him. The explicit consequence seems to help and the fact that he knows we would follow through with it.

It is difficult because whilst it is important to be understanding of Little Bear’s feelings and to empathise with the reasons behind his dysregulation, his behaviour does impact on everyone else in the car and it can feel like a pressure cooker ready to blow. We find we do need to somehow stop the escalation otherwise it’s too difficult to drive the car safely. On a couple of occasions it has been necessary to stop the car but thankfully not many times.

I find it can be a fine balance between being therapeutic and drawing a line under behaviours that are not acceptable/ adversely affect everyone else. As a Mum I have to meet everyone’s needs as best I can and that does mean there are times that Little Bear needs to “get on with it” even if he doesn’t quite feel like it.

Once we were at the park, everything was calmer. Little Bear was tired and wanted a lot of cuddles. He did quite a lot of spinning on his tummy on the roundabout. The sun was shining, Grizzly and Big Bear found some people to play football with and all was well.

When we got home, we made sure Little Bear had a rest.

Tea time brings the same issues as other meals but Gary was here and we were keeping things easy so she fed him and got cuddles and all was fairly well.

At bedtime we quite often have some refusal issues with getting ready but Little Bear loves his stories and the threat of removing 1 of those usually works to keep him focused. He listened to his stories and we had some cuddles. We skipped him reading his book because I knew he couldn’t manage it. It is after I settle him and go out of his room that the monkey business usually starts.

We still sit outside of Little Bear’s door for this reason. If we fully removed supervision I’m not too sure what he would get up to but I know it wouldn’t be sleeping. This Saturday he got out of bed/ threw things/ shouted various things through his door (which wasn’t shut, just to, as he doesn’t like being shut in a room). I think I sat there for about 45 minutes or so. It wasn’t too bad but most nights are much better than this now. Often Little Bear will chat a little but settle down and sleep quite quickly. He mostly doesn’t try to get out of bed or scratch the walls or throw things any more. He usually says “I love you Mum” not “hideous idiot mum”. But not on Saturdays. Saturdays can be tricky.

The good thing about Saturdays is that they are followed by Sundays which are usually a much nicer kind of day. One of us usually gets a lie in. This weekend it was Mother’s Day so we both got up and all had a nice breakfast together. We usually manage some quality family time on a Sunday. This weekend we went to the zoo. Little Bear walked beside me, he followed instructions, he was calm in the car, we chatted about the animals, we went on a boat, we had FUN. Little Bear is like a different child on Sundays. We had the odd small blip – I got a slap because he was getting over-hungry but generally we had a lovely day.

Little Bear wanted to get a cuddly bat. He announced it on the way there. He has some birthday money so we said he could. We went all around the zoo and had lunch and an ice-cream before we went to the shop. Little Bear didn’t moan once and was very happy to be united with his bat when the time finally came. He has creatively named it “Bat” and it apparently slept hanging upside down all the way home in the car.

Little Bear is such a good boy but Saturdays can be tricky.

 

 

Saturdays